Tonia Carter, left, and Meagan Back, far right, both with Washington Federal, present Angela Schock and Bruce Holmson, Hood River County Christmas Project, with a recent donation. “Through the Washington Federal Foundation Grant, we were able to donate $2,000 to this charity and the funds go directly to needy families in our community,” said Carter, branch manager for Washington Federal. “We have been fortunate enough to have been able to do this for several years now.”
How to Help: Christmas Project
The Christmas Project is a volunteer driven program. Coordinated by a volunteer board, approximately 300 local volunteers assist each year to make the program work.
Volunteers help to register clients, organize canned food drives, sponsor families, pack toy bags and food boxes, deliver boxes to seniors and people with disabilities, and distribute the boxes to families on their scheduled pick up dates. Every year, volunteers and sponsors work together to bring smiles to the faces of all those involved.
To volunteer, visit hoodrivercountych... or come by the Community Building at the Hood River County Fairgrounds Monday through Saturday, Dec. 10-15, the official sorting and packing days.
Donations may be made at the above website, as well as sent to Hood River County Christmas Project, PO Box 872, Hood River, OR 97031.
If it wasn’t for a federal government shutdown, longtime coordinator Bruce Holmson might never have become involved with the Hood River County Christmas Project.
It was the mid-1990s, around the holiday season, and Holmson was working in Parkdale with the Forest Service.
“We were out of work for two weeks and told not to report to work because the president hadn’t signed an extended budget,” he remembered.
He saw Sharon Smiley at church, who told Holmson she could use him on the Christmas Project’s food packing line.
“So that’s what I did,” he said. “I was on the packing line, and I think I spent two years there each December, packing food, and then they made me in charge of the packing line.”
That was approximately 23 years ago.
Then, in 2006, the usual annual planning meeting didn’t get scheduled: Holmson called the coordinator that October and learned she’d moved to New Mexico.
“She said, ‘Bruce, you’re it.’ I said, ‘Oh, my goodness.’”
That was 13 years ago. He’s been “driving the sleigh” ever since.
The Christmas Project has a long history of providing assistance with food and children’s gifts during the Christmas holiday to Hood River County families who are currently receiving State of Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or who have a Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) card, or who are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
One of the best things The Christmas Project did, he said, was become a 501c3 nonprofit in 2008 — that gave the program structure, with bylaws and a board. It also unlocked opportunities for grant applications.
When the program became a nonprofit, it also became a year-long project.
“In January, we have a wrap-up meeting and critique the previous year. The we jump in for putting in for a United Way grant, and then we continue the effort with grants through the spring.
“Then, in the summer, we do an appeal letter, a Christmas in July type of thing — solicit money to buy toys on sale instead of waiting for the last minute ...
“Then we’re in it, planning. Come fall, we’re pretty much hitting the pavement,” he said.
There are also taxes to pay to the state and regulations to follow.
And then, of course, there are the families The Christmas Project serves, though the total number fluctuates from year to year. Right after the recession of 2008, the program hit an all-time high of about 540 families. Last year, The Christmas Project served 456 families, and the number this year looks like it could be even lower.
“The economy is good, employment opportunities are good right now, so we just kind of swing up and down based on what the national economy is doing, it seems like,” he said.
There are still a couple registration days scheduled, however, so “there’s still time to catch up,” he added. “People might be waiting to sign up until the end of the registration period.”
The program runs on volunteers and donations, and on both counts, the community always comes through. Several businesses are now hosting fundraisers for The Christmas Project, as well as collection barrels for food and toys.
“The community is just amazing — they really have our backs and support us, and because of them, we’re able to do what we do,” he said.
For those wishing to volunteer to help sort everything from potatoes to toys on the packing line, there is a volunteer sign up page on the project’s website, hoodrivercountychristmasproject.com.
Holmson said people should first go to the webpage to sign up, but anyone interested is welcome to come to the Hood River County Fairgrounds Monday through Saturday, Dec. 10-15, the official sorting and packing days, to “poke their head in. I’m sure there will be things they can do if they want to get involved. We can always take on more people.
“… A lot of times, we have to run out and get more food or grab more toys — there’s always things.”
Right now, he has high school basketball and soccer teams, and two middle school classes, scheduled to help, as well as the Hood River County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s nice to instill public service in younger people, so they can carry it forward, hopefully,” he said. “We’re going to probably have those (deputies) on the food line, or pack toys with the younger folk so they can get to know each other.”